SAT 8 - 8 - 2020
Date: Nov 28, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Lebanon: New PM talks postponed due to rift
Hussein Dakroub| The Daily Star
BEIRUT: Parliamentary consultations to designate a new prime minister, originally planned for this week, have been put off until next week as political rivals are still haggling over a unified candidate, as well as over the shape of the next government, official sources said Wednesday.

This comes as protesters, on the 42nd consecutive day of their anti-government popular uprising Wednesday, targeted Lebanon’s major banking institutions, including the Central Bank headquarters in Beirut’s Hamra district, to condemn policies that have led to the country’s dire economic and financial crisis.

As Lebanon’s unprecedented popular uprising showed no signs of letup, scuffles erupted Tuesday night between supporters of the Amal Movement and those of the Lebanese Forces in the Christian suburb of Ain al-Rummaneh, just opposite the predominantly Muslim area of Chiyah, raising fears of renewed sectarian strife.

The incident was reminiscent of a Kataeb-Palestinian clash in Ain al-Rummaneh that triggered the 1975-90 Civil War.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned on Oct. 29 under pressure of nationwide street protests against the ruling elite, bringing his 30-member Cabinet down with him. His Cabinet has since been serving in a caretaker capacity until a new government is formed.

A month after Hariri’s resignation, President Michel Aoun has been criticized, mainly by Future Movement officials, for failing to set a date for the binding parliamentary consultations with MPs to designate a new prime minister.

“Parliamentary consultations have apparently been postponed until next week because no agreement has yet been reached on a candidate for the premiership who can be acceptable to all the main political parties,” an official source told The Daily Star.

The source said Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Hariri were each making their own contacts with other political parties to sound out their views on the proposed names for the premiership after Hariri Tuesday withdrew his candidacy.

“Attempts are underway to agree on a candidate who can secure the support of the majority of blocs during the parliamentary consultations,” the source said, adding: “So far, the name of Samir Khatib appears to be the favorite candidate for the premiership.”

Asked if Aoun would support Khatib’s candidacy, a source at Baabda Palace told The Daily Star: “President Aoun will support the candidate who musters the support of the majority of parliamentary blocs during the consultations on naming a prime minister.”

Khatib, a prominent contractor, has emerged as a strong candidate to be named prime minister after Hariri bowed out of the premiership and after signs that the Future Movement’s parliamentary bloc was inclined toward supporting his nomination. Khatib is an executive vice president of engineering company Khatib & Alami, according to the firm’s website.

The Future bloc was supposed to have met Wednesday to decide on its candidate for prime minister ahead of the parliamentary consultations at Baabda Palace that were to be held Thursday or Friday.

“The Future bloc did not meet today [Wednesday] because there are no signs parliamentary consultations on naming a prime minister will be held this week,” Mustafa Alloush, a member of the Future Movement’s politburo, told The Daily Star.

Asked why Aoun was delaying the parliamentary consultations, Alloush said: “Aoun, the Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement want Hariri, or any candidate backed by him, to form a techno-political government. But Hariri insists on heading a government of specialists that excludes provocative political figures.” Since his resignation, Hariri has insisted on the formation of a government of “specialists” or “technocrats,” a key demand of the protesters, saying otherwise he preferred to bow out.

Hariri’s position has put him on a collision course with Aoun, the FPM, the Amal Movement and Hezbollah, all of which have been pushing for a techno-political government.

David Schenker, the top U.S. State Department official for the Middle East, said his talks with French and British officials in Paris last week focused on the political and economic crisis in Lebanon.

“I had robust discussions with the French, Brits and Italians over the course of my travel last week. We share a mutual interest for peace and stability in the Middle East. In Paris, my discussions with my French and British counterparts centered on the political and economic situation in Lebanon,” Schenker told reporters in Washington Tuesday night. “We agreed on the urgency for political leaders to quickly form a capable and responsive government backed by the Lebanese people that is dedicated to enacting reforms and ending endemic corruption.”

Despite withdrawing his candidacy, Future MP Samir Jisr said Hariri was the Future bloc’s sole candidate for prime minister.

“The bloc has one candidate, who is Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Since the first day after submitting his resignation, Prime Minister Hariri has been clear [saying] that only a government that satisfies the ambitions of the people in the street can be formed,” Jisr told the Central News Agency.

“But so far, the other side [Aoun, FPM, Amal and Hezbollah] is insisting that Hariri head a techno-political government and under their conditions, which he has rejected.”

Berri renewed his call for the formation of a techno-political government. “A Cabinet made up of technocrats only is out of the question,” he was quoted as saying by visitors at his Ain al-Tineh residence.

One Hezbollah MP echoed a similar position.

“We want a government. We can, in understanding with the other parties, form a government that satisfies the Lebanese people. But we cannot let the country be run by a technocratic government that has no experience, neither in politics, nor in the political complications surrounding Lebanon,” Hezbollah MP Hasan Ezzeddine said during a political gathering in the southern town of Zrariyeh.

Earlier Wednesday, Berri criticized the caretaker government’s failure to meet, describing the situation as “extremely dangerous,” requiring ministers come together. “Speaker Berri found it strange that the resigned government is not doing its job, asking: ‘Don’t important matters require the government to hold a meeting?’” MP Ali Bazzi from the speaker’s parliamentary bloc quoted Berri as saying during his weekly meeting with lawmakers at his Ain al-Tineh residence.

Berri’s remarks drew a quick response from a source close to Hariri, who said that the caretaker government was fulfilling all its duties to address the country’s security and economic problems.

“The caretaker government is carrying out all its obligations to follow up on the issues of the economy and security,” the source told Mustaqbal Web.

Berri was also quoted as saying: “The Lebanese must not lose hope about the rise of their country. Lebanon and the Lebanese are destined for unity and preserving Lebanon.”

Caretaker Interior Minister Raya El Hassan also sounded optimistic. “The country is at a crossroads. May God inspire all of us, both officials and citizens, to follow the right path because we can still together face all difficulties and steer the country to safe shores,” she tweeted.

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